Monday, January 2, 2012

All these new holiday toys, now what? Filial Play!

Happy New Year!  Now that the holiday rush is over and the taking down of decorations has begun, it's time to organize all of your children's new toys and play things.  Where to put them, what to return and most importantly, how to play with your child and all their new possessions!

I love this time of year.  I've been looking forward to my daughter opening her presents, and for us playing with them together!  As I've mentioned on here before, children learn through their play and communicate through play, so it's important as parents to also learn how to 'play' with your children.

There is something play therapists teach parents called Filial Play Therapy.  What is Filial?

It's a Child-Parent-Relationship Training (CPR) where parents are taught in a group setting that is usually a 10 week course. The goal is to basically teach parents some of the play therapy techniques we use so they can take it home with them and use forever.  But there are a few things you can implement on your own right now without taking the class.  Oh, and your child does not need to have some 'mental health problem' to benefit from Filial, it works with every family and child.

What is the benefit of Filial:

-Filial builds a different relationship with your child where the child learns they are capable, important, understood, and accepted as who they are

-No judgments, put-downs, requirements or evaluations from their parents

-It releases any tensions, burdens or feelings your child may be exhibiting at home or school

-Your child begins to feel better about themselves and learn to discover their own strengths and increased self esteem

-The best benefit out of all is that it strengthens the parent child relationship!  I have had dads break down crying in the group stating that they thought they knew their child and were good dads, until they learned how to really 'play' with their child and 'listen' to their play.  Amazing and so touching to hear :)

What age can you start? 

Well, you can start some of the fundamentals at any age.  Right now my child is 19 months old and our play still involves a lot of learning such as, "this truck is blue," or "this is a cow, can you say cow?"  But I always set some time aside to practice some attentive filial/play therapy techniques.  I recommend filial techniques from an average age of 15 months up to the teenage years.  The class group setting is typically more for ages 3-12 years of age, and for older teens, you can provide a board game to play.

What are the techniques?  Again, these are the basics you can implement now and if you need any additional assistance or want to join a group, you can contact me to find an area class for you.  These techniques are adapted from the 10 week module:

The Set Up:

-Set aside 30 minutes of playtime once a week at a minimum

-During this 'special' playtime, make sure the TV is off, the phone is off, no computers, and all distractions are gone (other siblings not around if possible). Make sure it is a quiet space. For older children, you can even make cute appointment cards so they know when to expect their 'special time.' And no answering the phone! :)

-As for toys, we typically recommend a bag of special toys that parents use for the class, but for at home play, use your child's new toys and any favorites they have.  Make sure there is a good mixture of aggressive, nurturing and pretend play type toys available.  (if you have a young child around 12 months of age, feel free to use whatever you have on hand)

How to play during the sessions:

-THE CHILD LEADS THE PLAY.  This means they choose what to play with, how to play with it and what to do.  The parent follows and the child leads.  NO suggestions from the parent and no asking questions or showing them how to do something.  You play 'dumb' and let them tell you the apple is blue. If they want the apple to be blue, then gosh darn it, it's going to be blue :)

-During their play, try to point out a feeling they are showing to make them aware of feelings

-How do you respond to them?  Basically just reflect what you see them doing, what you think they are trying to do and get that feeling word in there!

Examples: "You are giving your dinosaur something to drink," or "You just threw your dog on the floor, he must be feeling hurt right now."

-Again, no changing the play and making them play with something else.  If they hand you a toy, let them lead and show you what to do with it. If they are not used to leading, ask them what they want you to do with it.  For example, if they hand you a bus/car, let them tell you where it is going, don't just starting driving it across the floor.

-If they start acting strange or think you are talking strange (which happens a lot), just reflect that "you think mommy is talking weird."  You can also reflect that things are different during the 'special play time' together such as toys, play, etc.

-If they try to break a limit, set a limit on not hurting themselves, you or the toys.  "I know you want to color on the wall, but the walls are not for coloring on,"  or "You look mad at your truck, but remember that toys are not for throwing across the room because they might break."  (If this happens a lot in your home, provide some safe aggressive toys to release that pent up aggression-those plastic toy punching bags are great for that!)

-At the end of the 30 minutes, announce 5 minutes before (1 minute if they are super young) that time is about up.  Then at the end, stand up and state that special play time is over.  For older kids, schedule the next special time and for younger, just let them know you will play with them later.

You can play with your child as much as possible outside of this time, but this special time is a set scheduled time that is uninterrupted and free of learning, lessons, judgments, leading, etc.

Of course there is A LOT more that goes into this, but these are some of the basics.  So with all of their new toys, just remember to give them that special one on one parent attention for 30 minutes, no interruptions and let them lead the play.  Having their parent give them all this attention without telling them what to do, believe me, they will be shocked amazed and grow a whole new love for you! :)



  1. Great suggestions! I love the uninterrupted play and letting them lead the activity.

  2. Thanks Nicole! I try to remind myself to do this too during playtime as I get caught up with housework and chores and need to learn to focus more on her play and her leading the play :)